This is July 10, 1990. I am speaking with Mr. Juel Turner in the central office of the Roanoke County School Board building of his experience as a secondary school principal.
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Q: Mr. Turner, how did you get interested in education?
A: Chris, as a matter of fact I finished college in 1951. I went to a small liberal arts school, Emory & Henry, in deep southwest Virginia. I majored in economics and social studies. I had not planned to teach school although I had taken about four classes in education because the basic offerings at Emory were somewhat lacking as far as electives were concerned and I thought I would take a few classes and see what they were like. I had finished college and had not planned to teach school. My former high school principal had become the director of instruction for Patrick County Schools where I had grown up. He came to see me. He wanted me to go into education. I wasn't at home. He talked to my father. My father told me that Mr. Spangler had come to see me, Dorn Spangler. I told my father that I wasn't interested in teaching. A few nights later not only did Dorn Spangler come to see me but James B. Law who was the superintendent at that time for Patrick County. I again was not at home. My father told me about it. I told my father that I wasn't interested in teaching school - it didn't pay anything. My father told me that if I wasn't interested I should at least go and tell Mr. Spangler and Mr. Law that I wasn't interested and not to tell him so. He also told me I had been in service and then in college for four years and he and his wife were not getting any younger, and I could stay at home and not have to pay any board and it wouldn't hurt me to teach a year or two. So I went to see Mr. Spangler and Mr. Law, the Superintendent in Patrick County, and not only did they want me to teach they wanted me to take sixth grade at Patrick Spring Elementary School and also be the principal of that school. I was rather naive. It sounded important, a good position. I was so naive I didn't even ask what it paid. I told them I would take it before I left, and a few weeks later I got my contract. It was $2,000 a year. I was somewhat astounded by that but I told them I would do it and so I said well I'll go there for a year. I did. I went to the school; it was small, a little elementary school. We had five teachers besides me. Most of them were early 40's. They pretty much took me under wing. It was a fine community and excellent support there. And I was staying at home, commuting 15 miles each way to work. Enjoyed it! The kids were delightful. The teachers were very supportive and so were the parents, but I hadn't done too well financially. In fact, I was paying $100 a month on my car and was only taking home $170 a month so the first year I was in this school I had borrowed about $800 from my father and I didn't see any future to that. Mr. Spangler brought the contract around for the next year and had $2100 on my contract and I laughed at it. He said he'd like to pay me more but Patrick was a poor county and they just couldn't afford to. I told him no ill will but I didn't plan to go back. He said to think of the good experience I was getting. I thought of the good experience because I was having to make out my own menus, build the fires in pot-bellied stoves for the other four teachers I had (ladies), do all the reports, because I didn't have any janitor nor a secretary. And so when he said think of the good experience you are getting, I said yeh I've had a year of it and I think someone else should have it. With that, he didn't like that too well I don't think, he said get your contracts in signed or unsigned. All of the teachers signed theirs. I turned in mine unsigned. This was in February of 1952. It went until I turned in my first of June reports and the Superintendent James Law heard me up there and he wanted me to come in and talk with him. Well, I did. Jimmy Law was a young superintendent, personable man, an excellent public relations man, and by the time he got through talking to me I didn't think anyone else could be the principal at Patrick Springs Elementary other than myself and not only that, but he gave me a $400 raise and I said I'll go back. So, I did. I went back the second year. I liked it better - still had good support. The third year I was getting a new building so I went back the third year. The third year I went back I even had a custodian, had running water in the building, all these good things that I never had before in that old school. I was enjoying this a lot. I still had excellent support from the community and the teachers. After three years of this, my wife to be had come to the county the year before and she was teaching at Meadows of Dan. It's a small school in Patrick County right on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It had grades one through twelve. Mr. Law called me into his office and offered me the assistant principalship at Meadows of Dan and be the head basketball coach and the head baseball coach and teach five periods a day. Not only that, but they were going to give me $3,000 a year. Since my wife to be was already teaching there I said that I would accept that position. So, I did. It was an exciting situation to say the least and certainly a full time job. As I look back to it, it was probably one of the most enjoyable years I spent in education. I stayed there one year. By this time I was pretty much hooked on education so I entered summer school at the University of Virginia. This is in the summer of 1955. You go then a session and take three semester hours and go then to a six week session and take six semester hours for credit. In 1955, the only requirements in the state of Virginia to become a high school principal is that you be endorsed in education, of course, and also have three semester hours credit in supervision and three semester hours credit in administration. So I had registered to take those two classes in the six weeks program at University of Virginia in 1955 and around July 1st I had a call from the superintendent, James Law, in Patrick County requesting that I come to his office for an interview. Well I went by and what he wanted with me, they had an opening as a principal at the Harding Reynolds Memorial School in Patrick County, a school of approximately 600 students in grades one through twelve. The Chairman of the Board and the representative from the Harding Reynolds district was a gentleman of the name of Mr. Hunter Tatum and Mr. Law, the superintendent, asked that I go by and talk to Mr. Tatum. I had known Mr. Tatum well as he was also the representative on the school board of the Patrick Springs district where I had served for three years in elementary principal. So I went by and talked to Mr. Tatum and he told me they would like to have me in this position after talking to me over a considerable period of time. And so, I signed a contract to become principal of Harding Reynolds Memorial School in July of 1955 at a salary of $4,580. They did let me continue my education at the University of Virginia for the remainder of the summer and kept on the payroll. In the fall of 1955 and the spring of 1956 I did enroll in extension classes and took six semester hours of credit, went back to summer school in the summer of 1956 and took another nine hours of credit, enrolled and took extension classes in the fall of 1956 and spring of 1957, completed my masters degree in June of 1957 and was awarded a masters degree in education administration. I stayed at Harding Reynolds Memorial School and, again, it was pretty much a rural school grades one through twelve. It was a good community and I had many interesting people on my staff including Mr. Nat Terry, who was my Agriculture teacher and I had a student when I left there in 1956 who, the student was in the sixth grade, her name was Mary Sue Terry, the daughter of Nat and his wife. Mary Sue, of course, later became and presently is, in fact, the Attorney General of the State of Virginia. In June, 1959 I was at a principals' meeting in Fredericksburg, Va. and while there I heard about an opening for a high school principal in Orange County. The superintendent of schools there was C. J. M. Kyle, who at one time was the superintendent of schools in Patrick County. In fact he was superintendent of schools there when I was in high school and I had driven a bus for two years for Mr. Kyle while I was a high school student. So I called Mr. Kyle one night while attending the principals' meeting in Fredericksburg and I told him that I heard that he had an opening for a principal. He told me he did and that he would like for me to meet his School Board. He asked me when the principals' conference was over and I told him on Friday of that week he said his board was meeting on Friday morning and for me to come on by Orange and he would like for me to meet his Board. I did. I went by and I met the members of his board. They were very courteous and I didn't ask them many questions. They thanked me for coming by and so I went on home, didn't think a whole lot more about it. In fact, my wife and I the following week spent a week at Myrtle Beach. Came back home on a Sunday and on Sunday night I got a call from Mr. Kyle who wanted to know if I had gotten a release from my contract. I told him I didn't realize I had a position. He said I didn't have but things were looking up for me and he'd like for me to come back to see if I could get a release from my contract, come back to Orange and talk with his Board again. So, I did. Talked to the Chairman of our Board, Mr. Hunter Tatum, and our Superintendent, Mr. James B. Law. Mr. Law didn't want to release me but I went to see Mr. Tatum. Then he wanted to know where I was going. I told him. He said, that's where old man Kyle is, isn't it? I said, yes. Of course, Mr. Kyle and Patrick County was trying to consolidate the schools back in the late 40's and the Chairman of the Board didn't like this too much at the time and he voted to not renew Mr. Kyle's contract. But Mr. Tatum looked at me hard when I told him I was going to Orange and I told him that Mr. Kyle was the Superintendent. He said, Mr. Kyle's a good man. He runs a good school system. Juel, you're a young man. Go on up and take that job. You'll do well and I'll see that you get your release from your contract. So, I did. I went for the interview again with the Orange County School Board and it was a long process but they actually put me through an hours interview. It was one of the toughest interviews I think I ever had. This young lady that I thought was old at that time, was about forty, she looked at me and the first question she asked was, Mr. Turner, if we were to see fit to make you principal at Orange County High School what type of program would you set up and why? These questions went on for an hour. I'd give my opinion on each question asked. There were three gentlemen on the board and this one lady. Most of the questions the men asked were pertaining to discipline. I could see there were problems there as far as communication among staff, discipline in the school, etc. But I did give honest answers and straight forward answers. Finally, this lady asked me if I had solutions for all the problems in education. By this time it was pretty hot in the basement with no air conditioning and only a fan going around in July. I said, No, I don't have answers for all questions in education. If I did I wouldn't be applying for this job; I'd have a better one. All of them laughed. This was no way to get a job, I realized. I didn't care at that time time if I got it or not. The Board thanked me for being there. They didn't ask any further questions. They left and told me they hoped to see me again. Mr. Kyle called me. By the way, at this time, I had built up after four years at Harding Reynolds, a salary of $5,250. I had made up my mind that I wouldn't take the job in Orange for less than $6,500. I had to move about 180 miles. Mr Kyle called me in after the School Board had left and told me the Board had authorized him to offer me this position at a salary of $6,000. I thanked him and I told him I wasn't interested in the position for $6,000. We talked a few minutes and he went to $6,500. I told him I would take it. So I moved there in July, 1959. I stayed until July of 1963. I came to Roanoke County as the principal of Northside High School. Orange County had had approximately 850-900 kids in grades 8 through 12. Northside had over 1,300 youngsters in grade 8 through 12. I was making about $7,250 as principal of Orange County High School in 1963 and I came to Roanoke County as principal of Northside High School at a salary of $8,900. This was a pretty decent raise at this time. I stayed at Northside up until 1967, at which time I moved to Spotsylvania Co., Virginia, right outside of Fredericksburg, as the Director of Instruction. The Superintendent of Schools there at that time, John Neely, he and I had been in undergraduate school together at Emory & Henry College and also had been at the University of Virginia together. I had run into him at a meeting at Hotel Roanoke and he asked me if I wasn't tired of being a high school principal. I asked him what kind of good job he had. He said, Director of Instruction. He asked me if I was interested and I told him, Yes, if the money is right. He said, We'll make that right. What will you come for? I set my salary at $1,000 above what I was making at Northside. He said, Hell, that's a much as I am making. I said, I can't help it if they won't pay your more than you're worth. And no more was said. About three days later after he had gone home, he called me and wanted to know if I was serious and I told him yes. And he told me that what I had set as a salary was within $300 of what he was making. He just didn't know whether his Board would go with it or not. I said, Well it's up to them. I'm not coming for less. Put it to them. He did. Some of the Board members had known me when I was in Orange County and also, one of them had gone through the school at Northside while I was principal there and so they took me up. And so I moved to Fredericksburg in the latter part of June, 1967 as the Director of Instruction. It was basically a rural division and rather small at that time and among other responsibilities there I did all of the recruiting, the employing of personnel, of teachers, while with them. Along in April of 1970, Arnold Burton, who was the Superintendent of Schools in Roanoke County at that time, called me and wanted me to come back to Roanoke County as the Director of Personnel. Well I always liked Roanoke County and it's a good sized town. I enjoyed living in Roanoke and also the salary was better than what I was making in Spotsylvania. I'd gone from approximately $12,000 in Spotsylvania to $15,000 in three years and was offered $17,500 to come to Roanoke County as Director of Personnel in 1970. I accepted that job and I stayed in Personnel in Roanoke County until 1986 at which time I retired.
Q: Mr. Turner, of all the positions you have mentioned, which one has been your most challenging as a principal?
A: Chris, that's a difficult question. Of all the positions you are in, each is challenging in its own way. But I'd probably say after all of these years that going from Harding Reynolds as a principal of a small country school to the principalship of Orange County High School probably was the most difficult, although I felt very satisfied with the work and the accomplishments that were made in my reign as principal of Orange County High School. When I went there, I didn't know at the time but the previous principal had been let go as a result of poor communication within the staff, a lack of discipline within the school and really football was, so to speak, king at this school. I know the first year that I was there we went undefeated. In fact, for three years while I was there of the four years I stayed at Orange, we lost four games. It was a poor relationship among members of the staff and also the head football coach and some members of the community and this type of thing. I worked hard trying to get better harmony within the school. I corrected, with the support of the staff, a principal is only as good as his staff. We had an excellent staff at Orange County. It was a matter of getting them together and getting them to support things which were really important to the educational program at the school. Of course, the academics at this time were strongly stressed. We organized, the first year I was there, we went into a lot of ability grouping and used as a role model, really, the system that was being used in Washington, D.C. at the time and later was found to be actually unconstitutional as ruled by the courts in D.C. pertaining to that school but we did a lot of ability grouping in our Math, Algebra I in the 8th grade and some of the advanced placements, this type of thing with some of the gifted kids there. It did go well in the community. I got a lot of good support from the community by explaining it at PTA meetings and other meetings there, appearing before the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, this type of thing. Of course, it's basically a rural school system. In Orange, however, you have the little town of Orange, about 3,000 people, and they feel very important. Orange County is a little different from most areas. They either are fairly wealthy and most of them have inherited their land or money from generations ago or else they are the people who work for others, whether it be in the farms or factories of this area. So it's either the wealthy or those who have very little. The majority of the people, as I look back to it, were really middle class people. There were those who were less fortunate, I'd say. But I'd guess trying to correct the discipline problems, get the staff closer united and working towards upgrading the curriculum at Orange County High School, this was probably the biggest challenge I faced as far as principal was concerned. Although I felt very satisfied with the results that we had there.
Q: Mr. Turner, did you have any input in staffing selection in your schools where you were principal?
A: Chris, I did have some input. I was fortunate there and unfortunate in another way. We talked about two different ages as far as the staffing today and what it was like back in the 50's and up to the latter part of the 60's. It was near impossible to find teachers. There were few people majoring in education and if you needed a math, science, even english and even physical education teachers, you would look high and low. I was being sent out some as a principal when I was in Patrick County at Harding Reynolds Memorial School. I'd usually go to Radford and some of the schools that were nearby looking for staff. But they were practically impossible to find. You are talking about the teachers of that day in comparison to those of this day, there are many more from whom to select today and back then, frankly, if you came in with a degree and were qualified with the field, you usually had one applicant for one job and that person you tried to employ if you could. And they usually had many other offers as well as the offers from you. I know when I was in Orange County I can remember very vividly I needed someone endorsed to teach 8th grade math and 8th grade science. It was near the opening of school and we were desperate. We went through a teacher employment agency in Washington, D.C. They sent one applicant. This gentleman I will not name because someone has to place last in his graduating class and this gentleman I remember had gone to a liberal arts school and there were 129 in his graduating class and he ranked 129.
Q: What year was this, Mr. Turner?
A: This was in 1961. He came in and, frankly, he had no idea what-soever about organization and control in a class or for teaching, for that matter. He lasted less than two months and we had to send him on his way but today, for most positions, you have number of applicants hoping that you will select the best one available. Back in those days you pretty much would take what came your way because it was impossible to find people properly qualified.
Q: Mr. Turner, do you think there are certain characteristics that make a good principal?
A: Chris, a good principal, I think, must have a lot of good characteristics without question. One, the principal, he or she must be a good listener. People want to be heard and you must be able to sit down and listen if you are going to reason to people. You also must be a person that has a good knowledge of management, I think, because not only are you managing school funds, you've got to manage a large staff. Maybe it's administration instead of management but there are a lot of types of management, of course. I think you've got to be a manager who can assume control and get things done without people feeling that they are being forced into doing things they may not want to do. I think the good manager is one that can make people feel that they are being successful because the things they are doing are their ideas instead of someone elses. This is a role I think a good principal must indicate or be able to achieve. As far as the student body, I think you've got to be able to relate to the student body. Certainly, to be successful as a principal, you've got to know your students, you've got to know what their problems are, what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. You've also got to be knowledgeable of your teachers, their strengths and their weaknesses, and what you can do to help them to become more successful if possible. So, there are a lot of characteristics that are needed in a good principal and I've only touched the surface, I know that, but after all it's been a good while since I've been a principal, Chris.
Q: Mr. Turner, how do you feel the role of the principal as an instructional leader?
A: In my opinion, Chris, the principal must be the instructional leader. He's the head of the school. He's held responsible for all aspects of his function and the most important function of the school is instruction, without question. And so, I think the principal must be the leader of instruction. This doesn't mean he or she has to be a master in all subject matters. The principal must realize his or her strengths and weaknesses as well as that of the staff. I think they can overall be the leader and maybe use other personnel on the staff or within the school division to lead in certain instructional subjects while he or she may lead in the area of his expertise. You can use assistant principals, you can use department chairmen, but give those people support. This is a big responsibility of the principal because no principal is going to be a jack of all trades and be a specialist in all academic subjects.
Q: Mr. Turner, what advise would you give to someone who's considering an administrative job?
A: Well, there are a lot of things that they should be aware of. Number one, of course, is the proper training. Be qualified for the position for which you are applying. If it's a principalship, make sure you have all of the educational background and the requirements that meet the certification requirements within the state where you are applying. Of course, other traits you could make a list, write a book perhaps on this subject, but patience is one trait you must have. If you are going into a new situation as a principal, you must have patience. You go in, you must be able to sit down and evaluate the situation as to where they are today and where you feel that you can take the people. You can only take any school as far as the community is willing to accept. And, of course, how well you are able to do this is how well you can get along with people. Because being a principal, public relations is one of your most important jobs, not only in dealing with parents, with the public, but it's dealing with the members of you staff, dealing with those who may be your assistants or dealing with your school board and your superintendent of schools and those people within instruction from the central office, if they have such people. So if you're going into administration as a principal, you need the patience, you need the academic training, you need to know how to work with others in helping people improve instruction, so you need to know instruction, you need to have the instructional leadership ability. You also, of course, I think, need the intelligence. If you don't, you shouldn't be given the consideration in the first place. But a principalship is an awesome responsibility. At the same time I found it to be one of the most challenging and rewarding positions that I ever held in education. In 35 years in education, I enjoyed my relationship with staff, with students and with members of the community. And you can see these young people grow up and over a period of years the success that they have, and feel that you may have played a small part in this. It's really rewarding. So, I think really the principalship is one of the most important positions in education, whether it be in my day 40 years ago or the days of the present.
Q: How did you handle personnel problems on your staff, Mr. Turner, if you had a very ineffective teacher?
A: If I, and I had this, of course I think we had probably more in my days of principal than we do today, it depended upon the seriousness of the problem. Many of the things you would have it was as simple as a little guidance or assistance to the person. They wouldn't be aware of what was taking place, but as a principal, as a young principal, I'd spend considerable time in each classroom and I was 28 years old when I became a high school principal. I'd spend time in the classroom of people in their 50's and older, some younger, of course. But they didn't feel that I was a threat because we would sit down and chat, and I'd tell them that I'd be coming in at times. After an observation we'd sit down and chat and I'd always find something I could praise about what was being done in the classroom. Then if there were shortcomings, I'd point out what was taking place in the classroom. I'd try to give some pointers that would be helpful to them in carrying out instruction. Usually this was successful. If it weren't, after numerous opportunities for improvement, within a year, sometimes longer if it was not carried out, I'd have to sit down with the person and tell them that I was recommending to the superintendent of schools that their contract not be renewed. This I had to do.
Q: Mr. Turner, to what do you contribute your success in your career?
A: It's a difficult question, Chris, in a way. Actually I would attribute largely my success to the fact that I was always surrounded by good people. I always had close relationships with members of the staff. I got along well with youngsters, enjoyed youngsters, still do. Also, I worked for some fine superintendents. I never worked for anyone for whom I didn't have a lot of respect. And I also had good rapport with all of them. So working and being supported well by my superiors as well as those who worked with me, I would attribute my success more than any other one thing to these items. I had their support. A principal is only as good as the members of his staff. I was fortunate overall in having excellent staffs in all of the schools in which I worked.
Q: That's really great.What was the most pressing problem in education when you started out being a principal and what do you think it is today?
A: Really the most pressing problem that as I look back to it today that we had to face was probably the lack of money being put into education in the state of Virginia, without question. Along with this, and of course, what the real problem was, you couldn't find good people to go into education. The salaries would not justify it. The shortage of personnel. If you lost a teacher back in the 50's, I guess this is why I went into education, they couldn't find anyone else to take the job. They had offered it to me and I was gullible enough to try it. I think really the lack of professionally trained people going into education was the biggest problem at that time.
Q: And what do you think is the most pressing problem today?
A: Pressing problems today - there are a lot of problems today that we didn't have when I entered education. When I entered education parents as a whole had a lot of respect for educators, be it teachers or administrators. You had the authority to sit down with parents and reason with them, to help their youngsters. That's what it was all about and I was very successful in my attempts to work with parents so we could better the opportunities for their youngsters to get an education. Today I think everyone is an expert in education. Parents, I think, should have a part in education without question, but today if they come in pretty much irate, they stay way. If things do not go to suit them, the next thing you know there's a law suit pending. And I think this is the problem in education. Of course, schools are blamed, teachers are blamed for all of the shortcomings in education today. It isn't so. It starts at home. Too many homes have no parental control. If you don't have it at home, you're going to be facing those same problems at school. And without the support of the parents, it's very difficult to overcome. I'm not saying that parents are the problems of the schools today, but I think it's a failure to work with the schools more than what it was back in my earlier years of education, without question. Of course, drugs is a tremendous problem, but I too think that relates back to lack of home supervision. Alcohol is a problem. It's always been a problem. It was even as I was growing up. There too I think this is again a reflection of the school and home failing to work together. So many of the problems that I see in education today I think is a matter of people trying to work together to solve problems instead of people shoving blame at each other.
Q: That's a good point.What stands out as being the biggest problem you encountered when you were a principal?
A: Well, it depends upon the situation that's at hand. Of course when I became the principal of Orange County High School, for example, we had 850 kids. I had no help as far as administrative help at school. I was the principal, had supposedly an assistant principal, who was full time in guidance. There were very few administrative duties I could assign to this gentleman. He was tremendous but he couldn't do all of his work; he had too many people in guidance to do all of that much less be an assistant principal. I had to do everything - football games, I got around as I indicated before in the interview, football was a big item in Orange County High School. We had a strong SCA. Fortunately my SCA President the first year I was there was captain of the football team. This young man had been put out of student leadership camp that summer because he had broken curfew. So the first week I was principal there he came in and offered to resign and I talked to him a good while. I figured that would be one of the biggest mistakes I ever made if I asked this young fellow to resign. I worked with him and as a result he worked closely with me. We organized this aspect from sports becoming something the entire school could take pride in because we were achieving there. This rubbed off on academics because the people became quite proud of Orange County High School and they were well mannered. I know we won the good sportsmanship award along with the district championship several years while I was there. And we actually got to the point that the teachers were taking pride in it because they became a part of it. They had never done this before. I'm wandering a lot here in answering you, but...
Q: So the biggest problem was that you had do so much of it yourself.
A: So much I had to do. In fact, I worked around the clock. At football games I had teachers volunteering to keep gates, at that time without pay. We got the athletic department at the point finanacially that we could afford to pay and we started paying for gate keepers. But after games, for example, they would be over at 10:30 p.m., I had to collect the money, count it and put it in the bank, this type of thing. I had two young boys at home that had been born, in fact, while I was in Orange. It was never ending. Saturdays you could count on me being at school. There was no end to it.
Q: It must have been hard to keep up with what teachers were doing in the classroom.
A: It was very difficult but I set times, schedules, that I wouldn't see anyone. I would go into those classrooms at those times and I wouldn't let my secretary interfere with this. I wouldn't make other appointments. I had specific time schedules set that I would visit classrooms and everyone knew that.
Q: Mr. Turner, what's the funniest incident that occurred to you as a principal?
A: Again, Chris, it's been a long time. I'd have to give that some thought. I've had a lot of incidents that were funny. I, of course, went in as a high school principal at 28 years of age. One I can recall that I thought was right comical - I had a teacher, late 40's to early 50's at that time, who was senior class sponsor and she had a lot of responsibilities. She was a big busted woman and she was always making this comment. She came in one day and says, Mr. Turner, I've got so much weight on my chest it makes my back hurt. And I couldn't help but laugh at this. But there have been a lot of funny instances dealing with parents, with youngsters, especially with early childhood age youngsters. They can tell you all kinds of stories. I recall I was observing a fourth grade teacher one year, just out of college. This was at Harding Reynolds School where we had grades one through seven, I mean one through twelve, and this teacher was an excellent teacher but very young and she was covering Virginia history that day in the fourth grade. She did a good job in leading the discussion of the Virginia history of the subject they were on. I can't remember what it was but she got through and she said, Now do any of you have any questions? This young lady was blonde and very light complected. This little girl's hand shot up in the air and the teacher called her by name. She said, Virginia, what's your question? Says, Teacher, my sister had a baby and she's not even married. This teacher turned red in the face, she didn't know what to say. But she said, All right, let's move on to our math class. She handled it well, but a lot of funny instances happened in school as you look back to them. Some of them were not so funny at the time and at other times they are. I recall back when I started teaching school youngsters in the rural community, and this is where I was, and of course as a principal occasionally I didn't think a thing of spanking a kid. I always talked to them first and would tell them why and try to reason with them. I usually got by with not any ill will even. But I recall a case, now it's funny but it wasn't then, that a little boy had written one of the most, a third grader; he was about a year beyond the age of the third grade, but he'd written one of the most vulgar notes to a little girl I had every read and that's a fact. And so the little girl didn't understand it; she took it home and gave it to her mother. This was my first year of teaching now, along in about October and I started in August. Well the mother was furious so she brought it back the next day and gave it to the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher was a married lady, probably in her forties, so she brought it to me as a principal. I read this thing and said, My goodness a third grader writes something like this. And so I called him in; the little boy's name was Abraham. I'm not going to call his last name. I talked to Abraham; did he know what he was saying - oh yes, he knew what he was saying. So I talked to him and told him you didn't do such things etc. and gave him a little spanking. The next morning I got to school about 7:00 to build the fires for the other teachers; some of the older boys would meet me and help me start the fires. They met me out as I parked the car and said, Don't go in, Mrs. Spencer is in there. She's mad and she's waiting for you. Well, I might as well go talk to Mrs. Spencer. I went in. Of course Mrs. Spencer was all upset because I had spanked her little Abraham the day before. Well I told her before she went any further we'd go in my office and sit down that I wanted to read the letter that Abraham had written to this little girl. She says, I can't read, you read it to me. I says, Mrs. Spencer, I'd be ashamed to read you this letter. She had kept her 8th grade youngster out that day to come with her, a little girl. I said, I'll leave the office and let her read it to you. So I went back in about this time the teacher came in. Her name was Mrs. Harver. So we went in and I says, Now, Mrs. Spencer, how do you feel about what Abraham has done? I still don't think he deserves a spanking; he doesn't even get one at home. Well, Mrs. Harver spoke up, she didn't think, she says, Well, that's probably why he needs one at school. Well that didn't help the situation a bit but anyway I says, Now Mrs. Spencer, what if someone had written your little girl here in the 8th grade a letter of that kind and you'd gotten a hold of it. What would you have done? I'd thrown it in the wastepaper basket and forgotten about it. I says, I see. Well, Abraham's a fine boy but we've got to teach him he can't do that and here at this school we do do some spanking. I didn't hurt Abraham. I didn't hit him that hard, but I talked to him and I don't think we'll have any more trouble with him. Well, I'm going to take Abraham home today. Mrs. Harver says, Why? He had a stomach tooth pulled last night and he's not feeling very well; I'd better take him home. Mrs. Harver says, With whose permission are you going to take him home? He's my boy. I can take him home if I want to. I says, Now Mrs. Spencer if Abraham is sick what he needs to do is he ought to go see a doctor. No, I won't take him to the doctor. I don't have any way. I says, Who's your doctor. Doctor Shelburn. Doctor Shelburn I knew well. He only had an office about three miles from me. I says, I'll take you there. You will, you'd take Abraham to the doctor. That old principal before you wouldn't take him anywhere if he was dying. I says, Well, I'll be glad to. And I figured there wasn't anything wrong with Abraham. I'd go down and tell Doc Shelburn what had taken place and he'd send him on back to school. Well I went down there and Dr. Shelburn saw him immediately. He examined him a little bit and gave him a couple of prescriptions; actually he filled the prescriptions himself. I said, Doc, how about Abraham coming back to school? He says, I think it'll be all right for Abraham to miss about two days of school, Mr. Turner. I said, We appreciate that. I ended up making a friend. I didn't realize it but it proved out to be that. Mrs. Spencer was very supportive of me after that but it wasn't funny at the time. But today as you look back for it it's right comical.
Q: Mr. Turner, what do you think is the problem that faces principals today, the worst problem that faces principals today?
A: There are a lot of problems that face principals today that I did not have to contend with when I was a principal many years ago. The biggest, it would be hard for me to indicate, I think, because the responsibility of the principal still today is to see that each child within the school receives the best education he or she can possibly receive and, of course, to do this you've got to work with parents, you've got to work with teachers, you're getting all the state and federal mandates which require time and which takes away from other aspects of the school and, again, instruction is the most important aspect of any school along with, of course, the students are the most important and instruction is second because the two must go together without question. State mandates, federal mandates, society in general in which we live, I include in that your drug situation, one parent homes and many other problems face educators today that we didn't have to face back 20 years ago. I don't think you can say one problem is it; I think it's a combination of problems.
Q: What do you think about the state getting involved at such an intricate level of education, with state mandates, SOL's, SOQ's and now the federal government stepping in with the goals for the nation for education? What do you think about all the restructuring that's trying to happen in our nation's school?
A: I can see some of it, Chris, as for being for the betterment of education because in too many cases local school systems and the board of supervisors who control purse strings in the rural division in the State of Virginia and the City Council in your city systems a failure to appropriate proper funds to adequately support a good school system. I think the localities have brought a lot of this, are responsible for bringing a lot of this about, personally. I think it depends upon the school division. I think Roanoke County; I worked in a number of school divisions and I've observed throughout the State of Virginia classrooms as well as a number of other states, and in Roanoke County we are fortunate. We have an unusally good strong school division and the people as a whole have been willing to pay for and support education at a good level. I think your pupil/teacher ratio would indicate this because something like 86% of all money spent in the Roanoke County school division actually goes into personnel, which is a high percentage of the entire piece of cake, so to speak, or pie. This is not true in many school divisions. The paperwork that all of these mandates require to me, and a lot of it is needless without question when you're in a good school division, but again the purpose of this was set up to make all divisions do more for the youngsters within the school. I can see the intent is good. I see a lot of it is repetitious. It's time consuming and too often I think school divisions the end results, after all of this, the test scores, the achievement levels of youngsters and this, of course, it's been publicized, parents have a tendency to compare one division to another, this is all well and good if you're leading the pack but if you're on the bottom of the rung then I don't know if this is a lot of help to any school division. I think it's making those divisons be more aware of where they are and making some effort to do something about it, even with all of these shortcomings. I'm not opposed to this; I'm not strongly for it. I can see the purpose but I think they've gone overboard in it.
Q: Mr. Turner, there's been a lot of controversy about how assistant principals should be used in a school. What are your feelings about their position to be most effective?
A: This is another good question, Chris. I worked so long without an assistant principal that when I finally came to Roanoke County and had two I had to learn to delegate authority. I did. I had been used to doing everything myself. I was in a larger school, 1350 to 1400 students instead of the 800 to 850 I had in Orange. I suddenly found myself with two assistants. I'm going to set this up as an idea, but I had followed a good man as the principal at Northside. It was Owen Counts and some responsibilities had been outlined for each of them before I came and I sat down with each one of them and tried to size up strengths and weaknesses of the people I had as assistants. Then I made some changes in some of their responsibilities, after a time. I didn't do so immediately. I don't think you go into any school and make immediate changes if you expect to be very successful, but as far as for the principal and assistant principals, you've got to use the people that are there where they can be the most service to youngsters. Anymore, many of them are delegated as instructional leaders. You have others that are delegated the responsibility of discipline. You have some that do the reports, all reports; oh, it depends upon what their title calls for. I left a lot of room for overlap. If I had someone that I thought was capable of observing teachers and being of help to teachers, then I used them. I had to. With the number of people I had on staff, it would have been difficult for me to really have done a true job of observing and giving a rating of each member of the staff, although I knew where I had delegated the responsibility for the evaluation to one of the assistants of certain departments I would still observe that teacher too and I'd go with the assistant principal to the evaluation and at times I would even go in with the teacher. You've got to use people where they have the strength to do the job that needs to be done and of course high schools usually have an athletic director. I had an athletic director but I would not limit that person's responsibilities to athletics. I thought if he was going to be an assistant principal he should be able to be of benefit to the school, to the students and to the teachers in any aspect of the school where they may be needed, because actually they are the principal when the principal is gone and there are times when the principal is going to be gone from the school. The key to this is really to select the personnel for the assistant principal. I don't think anyone should ever be selected as an assistant principal unless that person certainly has the potential to become an outstanding principal in the future.
Q: Mr. Turner, in my masters classes I've been hearing a lot about site based management and teacher impowerment. What are your feelings about it if you're familiar with these terms? What do you think is the rate of success if this is implemented in schools?
A: Well, Chris, a lot of this is relatively new coming out, of course some talk of this under different names has been going on since I entered education, what, 39 years ago I guess, More of it moreso in recent years. It's very difficult to me. I think teachers absolutely need input in all aspects of instruction, I mean of education, whether it be from the instruction level on down to having input in budgets, an input as far as policies are concerned, setting up guidelines under which we all evaluate and so forth, but to say that the classroom teacher is going to have a strong input in the overall county budget, other aspects of this, it's very difficult for me to see. We, in Roanoke County, and I'll use this example, have used committees to give reports and recommendations for overall budget for years. We've used this and this is about as far as I'd advocate it go. I found in my relationship with teachers, of course, teachers' supplies are a very important aspect of the budget, salaries are your key for the majority of them. They're more interested there than certain other aspects, but I think I like the idea of having committees set up where teachers do have input but giving more authority and control to..., someone's got to be responsible for the operation of the schools. As far as I'm concerned the buck doesn't go at a high school beyond the principal other than to the superintendent of schools to whom he's held responsible. Of course, the overall responsibility for the operation of any school system rests chiefly with the superintendent of schools. Of course, he or she is employed by the school board that has final authority or say so on what takes place. It's up to the superintendent to make the recommendations and then it's up to the school board whether or not to approve such recommendations. I'm not real strong on what you're talking about, young lady.
Q: Thank you Mr. Turner for your time and your words of wisdom. I appreciate this interview.
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